• May 12th Earthquake Threatens Chinese Cultural Heritage

    A statue of Buddha is all that remains of the Xiayuan Temple, a cultural relic in Luoshui, Shifang, Sichuan province. Zhang Xiaoli (China Daily)

    While our primary concern remains with the more than 62,000 who perished, the more than 250,000 who were injured and the five million people who have become homeless in the wake of the May 12th earthquake in China’s Sichuan Province, we should not forget the hundreds of cultural heritage sites in the region that have been damaged or obliterated. One example, reported by The New York Times is the 1,500-year-old Taoist sanctuary known as the Two Kings Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, near Dujiangyan.

    According to the China Daily newspaper, experts at a disaster relief conference held at Chengdu on May 20th reported that many ancient ...

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  • Yale’s Own Indiana Jones Story

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    Indiana Jones is back- bullwhip, fedora, and all… “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” is at a theater near you and is bringing a nearly century-old Cultural Property dispute back into the spotlight.

    In the fourth installment of the swashbuckling archaeologist’s (using the term loosely) adventures, Hollywood takes us to the Yale University campus… as even today the university continues its real life role in the efforts to resolve a dispute with the Peruvian government regarding thousands of artifacts excavated at Machu Picchu. Yale’s own adventurer-archaeologist Hiram Bingham III (who is thought to have inspired the Indiana Jones character) rediscovered a much-forgotten Machu Picchu in 1911, and brought thousands of artifacts home to Yale’s collection. Just last year, in a landmark decision, Yale and Peru agreed on a plan for repatriation, including co-sponsorship of a traveling exhibition and a new museum in Cuzco, Peru.

    Recently, inspired by the release of “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” NPR’s Tom Ashbrook hosted an “On Point” radio broadcast on the story. Featured interviewees are:

    The broadcast is fascinating for Indy buffs and Cultural Property enthusiasts alike. The agreement reached last year between Yale and Peru was a landmark, and hopefully will be an example for future negotiations between source countries and institutions in the future. As you’re watching Harrison Ford bullwhip his way through ancient sites in the theater, take a moment to appreciate the strides taken in this story to ensure that Cultural Heritage is available to all.

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  • Stakeholders and Interests in Cultural Heritage Issues

    Archaeologists, museums, dealers, and collectors are the most frequently referenced “stakeholders” in cultural property issues. Archaeologists and other scholars are concerned about the destruction of information resulting from looting. Museums are concerned about mainting the prestige and integrity of their collections and exhibiting to the public. Collectors have a passion for the ancient world that is expressed through personal acquisition and often enjoy the physical or tactile connection the past. Dealers acquire objects and sell them at a profit to those want to acquire them. The general public is often ignored as one of the stakeholders, but SAFECORNER recently commented on the public’s interest.

    One group of stakeholders, those who profit financially, have been heavily involved in the issues and are waging a sort of public relations battle, claiming to be “better scholars” than trained professionals, in order to distance themselves from their inherent commercial interest as tradesmen (see for example, Jerome Hall’s “The Fig and the Spade” and my post on SAFECORNER “Archaeologists don’t care about coins“). In light of some recent activity, I have discussed the divergent interests, and asked why some dealers often allege archaeologists and other scholars have ulterior motives for their stances on cultural heritage issues. Read the post at: “‘Dilettanti and Shopmen': Divergent Interests in Looting and Cultural Heritage Issues.”

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  • James Cuno’s Illogic

    James Cuno’s new book, Who Owns Antiquities?, continues to push the case he has been arguing for several years now in print against current international conventions designed to protect cultural heritage from looting. Such conventions, he has suggested, are in bad faith. “If only current international agreements were intended to preserve archaeological knowledge,” Cuno has written elsewhere. “If only they were meant to make sure that we know where the world’s archaeological objects were found and that its archaeological sites are preserved. But they are not. They are intended instead to preserve the integrity of one nation’s cultural property at the expense of the world’s interest in international exchange.”

    Bad faith, of course, could equally well be charged against those with an interest in international exchange — the museums and collectors who benefit from current international agreements allowing them to purchase artifacts without having to show that the provenance of these objects is legitimate (or even having to register their purchase ...

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